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Meet Andrea Macikunas of Team Thailand 2016-17: Eliminating Mother-To-Child Transmission of HIV

Meet Andrea Macikunas (B.Sc Global Health) from Team Thailand Eliminating Mother-To-Child Transmission of HIV

You graduated from the University of Toronto with a Bachelor of Science in Global Health; can you tell us more about what you’ve been up to since graduating?   

After completing my undergraduate degree at the University of Toronto, I went on to complete medical school at Western University and graduated in 2021. I am now back in Toronto in the first year of my Pediatrics residency at the Hospital for Sick Children. 

How did your experience in Reach inform your career path [e.g., your case study focused on Eliminating Mother-To-Child Transmission of HIV] – how (if at all) did this impact you seeking an opportunity after graduating?  

I completed my project with Reach during my final year of undergraduate study and the writing of our final article extended into my time at medical school. While in medical school, my research project was focused on clinical work; however, my experience with Reach (including writing and editing our manuscript) continually renewed my interest in global health systems research. Partially because of my project with Reach, I pursued a summer placement in China during medical school to learn more about their health system and resources, an experience which I often find myself reflecting back on now in my clinical training.

Has this research influenced any of your current interests [personal or professional]?  

I pursued work with Reach in part due to my interest in global health, and my research with the Reach initiative only re-affirmed my passion for this field. However, while completing our fieldwork in Thailand, I was able to learn about the tremendous amount that the grassroots organizations were able to achieve for their communities. Looking back, I think this contributed to my current focus, which has shifted more to health advocacy and underserved patients in my own community, although global health remains an interest for me as well.

What takeaways or skills [personal or professional] did you gain from your Reach experience that you are applying to your work or study?  

I learned a lot from the Reach experience! What comes to mind first are the teamwork and communication skills. The program offered a unique opportunity for me during my undergraduate degree to work on a longitudinal project with a truly multidisciplinary team and build my communication (especially interviewing) skills. These are skillsets which I now put into practice daily as a medical resident working with patients and other healthcare professionals.

What is your fondest memory from your experience in Reach?

It is difficult to choose just one memory – I think fondly of the time during our fieldwork in Thailand when we had completed our interviews and were still analyzing insights and putting together the outline of what would become our final report. We were still “discovering” our key insights from our interview analyses and there were a lot of interesting synthesis discussions about what the main components of success for our case study were. This was such a unique time in our research process!

What advice would you give to current researchers who are working alongside students with diverse academic backgrounds and life experiences.

I believe that to be an effective team, it is key to create a working environment where all members feel supported and able to express their ideas, especially when researchers may come from a variety of backgrounds and bring unique experiences to the table. I think this means not only encouraging meaningful participation but also promoting a culture of safety by ensuring all members of the team feel safe to speak up and question currently held ideas or narratives, and also to disclose errors or missteps should they occur. 

What tips or words of encouragement would you give to someone who is interested in applying to the Reach initiative?

I would say that the most important thing is to set aside the time to really reflect on your passions and strengths, and how they relate to the projects mission and values. Once you have a clear idea of this, it will shine through on your application and interview.